A Righteous Rage
Nick Spencer (W), Paul Renaud (A)
Cover by Daniel Acuna
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Some things are really hard to talk about. We stray away from subjects that make us uncomfortable. It’s natural; that’s why we dislike talking about politics and religion. They are subjects that are difficult to broach when people don’t see eye-to-eye.
Like Benjamin Percy in Green Arrow, Nick Spencer has not shied away from taking political issues head-on in Sam Wilson: Captain America. When the comic started out, he was holding no quarter in his criticism towards parts of American culture and discourse with which he disagreed. That’s how you get a white power group using the Sons of the Serpent name while rounding up Mexican immigrants and selling them off to a mad scientist who has a bit of Carnage in him. That’s how you get the Serpent Society becoming Serpent Solutions, a corporate conglomerate. That’s how you get fictional conservative news pundits denouncing Captain America and declaring, “Not my Captain America,” at every turn.
In his more recent issues, his politics have been just as clear, even if he is admitting to the complexity of certain problems. An Anne Coulter-esque conservative writer went to a college and was assailed by armed and angry college students declaring the area a “safe space” that Cap, Rage and Falcon had to stop. Rage and the Falcon have also been wanting to take the fight directly to the Americops, an armed and brutal private policing force, but Sam knows violence won’t get them anywhere.
With the latest arc, the comic has been dealing more directly with the Americops issue. Rage stopped a robbery at a pawn shop being performed by Speed Demon and another C-lister villain I genuinely can’t remember. He was blindsided and the two robbers escaped in time for the Americops to arrive. They immediately assumed Rage committed the robbery and beat him brutally while he offered no resistance. He was then arrested.
Sam wanted to help Rage get out, offering lawyers and the resources of the Avengers. Rage rejected the help, wanting to show people how the system can railroad black youth. He didn’t want to use those resources because most people don’t have them. Meanwhile, Sam used a tool he established to fight the Americops a little while back. He had used his ability to see through the eyes of birds with a chip implanted into his own head to record everything the Americops did through the city’s avian population. As it turns out, a bird was present for the entirety of the exchange between Rage and the Americops, and Sam published the video footage of Rage being beaten for the world to see.
Rage went to trial with an inept public defender. The footage Sam published was considered inadmissible, and Rage was found guilty. New York immediately exploded into riots and protests, exemplified by a young black man painting his face like Rage’s mask and throwing a Molotov at a bank.
This issue picks up from there, with Captain America lamenting how he failed. He tried to stand up for his beliefs and improve the system, and he and the system failed. The accompanying panels show a flashback of what has happened in recent issues. The comic then shows the peaceful protests and the riots. The Americops only see the riots and fire gas grenades into the protesters.
Next, we see Harry Hauser, a pundit who has been criticizing Sam throughout this series, lambasting the protestors, only calling them rioters. He accuses Captain America of inciting it, and he calls Rage a criminal.
Sam visits Rage in prison and begins talking appeals. Rage doesn’t want to go through with it, and he tells Sam this is exactly what he wanted. He wanted the people to see what happens. Sam tells him about the chaos in the city, and Rage reploes that maybe this is what should happen. These people rely on the law to protect them, but it only preys on them.
Rage also tells Sam that he is being moved to Z Block. We are informed by Sam that it is a state prison set up so the state would no longer have to rely on federal prisons and S.H.I.E.L.D to house super-powered criminals. However, the state couldn’t afford the security, so it was outsourced to a for-profit organization to build the prisons. They focus on imprisonment instead of rehabilitation, and the criminals are treated terribly and put in solitary at the drop of a hat.
Sam then goes to a press conference outside city hall. He denounces the rioters, encourages the protesters, and condemns the Americops. He admits in his thought captions that he is not entirely behind what he is saying, implying that he may want the riots to continue. He doesn’t act or speak on these feelings though.
He then goes to his brother Gideon’s church to seek spiritual guidance. His brother prays on behalf of Rage, the protestors, and that things may be made right. He then tells the congregation that he thinks a righteous anger is good in times such as these, and he encourages the congregation to take a stand and show the world that they will not be put down.
The latter portion of his sermon is shown over panels of protests as well as Rage in prison. Rage is approached by other inmates who know he was a superhero. They beat him mercilessly, kicking and stomping him after he hits the ground.
The comic concludes with Sam going to a hospital and being told by Claire the Night Nurse that it was bad. Rage is on life support, his brain is dead, and he is only artificially alive now.
I don’t know why this comic doesn’t get more attention. It’s important. It’s saying important things. I get that it’s controversial. It should be, and it’s incredibly relevant to the times we live in.
This is going to be a little soapbox-y, but I feel like no one can deny that there is something bad going on in our inner cities right now. Black families are starving, black youth are being beaten, arrested, and/or shot, and there is a depressingly high amount of black Americans in jail. Now, poverty knows no race; starvation affects black, white, latino, Asian, etc. families equally. However, a disproportionately high amount of impoverished families are black. The only questions are the how’s and why’s this is happening.
This is where people come to a disagreement of course. Some say it’s a predatory system and a history of subjugation that has put many African American families on the brink. Others say it is a welfare system that encourages idleness and gang culture that encourages a lack of respect for authority. It should come as no surprise that I fall into the former category, and Nick Spencer and Captain America seem to feel the same way. I will admit that there is a point where we do have to take responsibility for our own actions, but sometimes in life no amount of know-how and pulling one’s self up by their bootstraps is going to put enough food on the table for one’s family.
This is a comic review of course and not an op-ed piece in a national publication. That being said, you can’t divorce the content from what it’s saying. I think what this comic is saying is very important, and it shows the source of a lot of anger in this country while explaining it in a manner that many people can see where the comic is coming from with what its message.
There is still the silent fury there, a staple of a Nick Spencer political comic. I have nothing wrong with that. This is a subject that should incite anger. This kind of thing should not be happening in reality, but it does. There have been points in this story arc where many people who would not be inclined to listen would be turned off by the confrontational nature of certain plot points. However, this issue in particular goes about its message as equitably as possible.
The storytelling allows the message to land correctly. The pacing is perfect. The emotions are heavy, and each turn of the knife hits hard. You feel for Sam. You feel for Rage. It’s painful watching all of this going down.
Paul Renaud’s artwork is absolutely gorgeous to boot. The shading, the faces, the figures; everything comes together to make this an emotional comic.
There’s not exactly a lot of comic book-styled action in this issue. I feel that it’s a good thing though. This story is heavy; it’s not fanciful. What happens is all-too real, and having a situation that Captain America can punch into submission is—well, unrealistic and undercuts the point.
The ending was heart-wrenching. This is in part because it was a fairly predictable ending. That’s the point though, it’s depressing because it was predictable. This kind of thing doesn’t have a happy ending. I teared up a little, I’m not ashamed to admit that.
This comic is important. It’s near-perfect in its intent and execution. I will admit it may be hard to hop on at this point if you haven’t been following the series, but it’s not impossible. The comic does a lot to fill the reader in. I mean what I’m about to say more than I ever have meant it before: go read this book.
Final Score: 10/10